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Monday, 11 September, 2000, 16:13 GMT 17:13 UK
Europe's fuel dilemma
Belgian protest
Belgium is following France's example
Big increases in the price of fuel have damaged business and brought industrial action across Europe.

The first reason for the soaring price of industrial fuel is that the world price of crude oil has risen from around $24 to $32 a barrel since the start of this year.

Prices surged to a 10-year high on 7 September, to around $35 a barrel.

Oil prices fell at the start of trading on 11 September to $32.28 a barrel from $32.78 following a decision by ministers from oil producing countries to increase production.

Blockade of fishing boats
French fishermen won big concessions
But prices are still much higher than some consumers are willing to pay.

A recent opinion poll in Germany revealed that two out of every five German car drivers intend to cut down on their motoring because petrol has become so expensive.

The European Union is putting pressure on oil-exporting countries to further boost production and get the price down to more normal levels.

But crude oil prices account for less than half of the increases at the pumps. Most of it is due to increases in fuel taxes collected by governments.

Taxes are a major source of revenue for spending on health and education. It is also a way of trying to reduce pollution and greenhouse gas emissions by encouraging people to switch to public transport.

In France, taxes account for almost 80% of the price of diesel fuel, and its price has risen by almost 30% in the last year - to the second highest level in western Europe, after Britain.

Industrial action

Groups like the fishermen and farmers complained this extra cost was putting their livelihoods in danger.

Trucks blockade a French fuel depot
French truckers caused a lot of disruption
Hauliers, trawlermen, farmers, ambulance and taxi drivers carried out a blockade of ports, oil refineries and fuel depots in a successful campaign for concessions that will cost the French Government about $640m.

European affairs analyst William Horsley says the series of concessions won by direct action in France have encouraged protesters elsewhere to follow the same methods.

The protests have spread to Belgium, Germany, the UK, Italy and Ireland.

In Germany, it has meant ignoring the country's strict laws against unauthorised strike action.

In Spain, farmers have threatened to go on strike in mid-September unless the government gives them relief from the higher fuel prices.

Most governments are reluctant to reduce fuel taxes but if the protests gather pace they may have to face difficult decisions.


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